COBRA, HIPAA, GINA, Mental Health Parity or Other Group Health Plan Rule Violations Trigger New Excise Tax Self-Assessment & Reporting Obligations

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer 

New Internal Revenue Service group health plan excise tax regulations that took effect January 1, 2010 now require that group health plans, their employers or other sponsors or others administering group health plans file an excise tax return self-reporting  violations of the medical coverage continuation requirements of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA); the non-discrimination, special enrollment and creditable coverage requirements of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA);  the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA), the Newborns’ and Mothers’ Health Protection Act (NMHPA), Michelle’s Law, health savings account (HAS) comparable employer contribution rules or certain other federal group health plan mandates to file an excise tax return. The addition of the excise tax reporting requirement adds to the already significant potential costs and liabilities that group health plans, their sponsors and administrators may face for violation of these or other federal group health plan mandates under the Internal Revenue Code (Code) or other applicable laws.  As a consequence, plan sponsors, administrators and others involved in the design and administration of group health plans subject to these requirements should ensure that their plan documents, policies and procedures -including those provided through third party service providers – properly are updated and administered in compliance with the applicable federal requirement and that proper steps are taken to timely correct any noncompliance issues that may arise in connection with the ongoing administration of their programs.

Numerous Changes In Law Enhance The Risk Plans Noncompliant

Group health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrators must deal with an already complex, and ever expanding array of federal requirements governing the design and administration of group health plans imposed by the Code, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Social Security Act and various other federal laws. Federal law increasingly is curtailing the significant latitude that employers and unions once enjoyed in deciding the benefits, eligibility and other terms and conditions of their group health plans. Noncompliance risks presently are particularly high now in light of the significant number of changes to these requirements that took effect or will take effect during 2009 and 2010.   As part of the range of damages, penalties or other liabilities that can arise when these requirements are violated, the Code imposes excise taxes upon employers or certain other parties involved with group health plans that fail to meet the Code’s COBRA, HIPAA GINA, MHPAEA, Michelle’s Law, HSA comparability, or certain other group health plan rules.  The excise tax amount triggered is generally $100 per individual for each day of noncompliance. However, for the HSA comparable employer contribution requirements, the excise tax generally equals 35% of all employer contributions made to all HSAs during the applicable calendar year.

Excise Tax Self-Assessment & Reporting Mandates Increase Potential Noncompliance Costs

Prior to 2010, the IRS generally did not require employers or other plans sponsors subject to these excise taxes to report group health plan noncompliance or assess these excise taxes as part of an IRS audit. However, final regulations published last September changed this policy. Effective January 1, 2010, the new regulations now require that group health plan sponsors to self report and pay applicable excise taxes if their group health plan fails to comply with any of the various federal group health plan mandates subject to the new regulations unless the employer or other responsible party demonstrates that it is excused from the reporting requirement under the Code or Regulations.

The timing of the required reporting may vary based on the nature of the group health plan and other factors.  For most violations involving a single employer group health plans, the sponsoring  employer generally must report the applicable excise tax on IRS Form 8928 (Return of Certain Excise Taxes Under Chapter 43 of the Internal Revenue Code), and pay the tax when reported. Penalties and interest may be assessed for failure to do so on or before the due date (without extension) of the employer’s federal income tax return. When a COBRA violation occurs, however, an insurer or third-party administrator may in some cases be responsible for the payment or reporting of the excise tax in some circumstances. When this is the case, the tax generally will be due by the due date (without extension) of the insurer’s or administrator’s federal income tax return. For multiemployer plans and multiple employer health plans, the return generally will be due by the last day of the seventh month after the end of the plan year. For noncompliance with the HSA comparable employer contribution requirements, the excise tax and Form 8928 must be filed on or before the 15th day of the fourth month following the calendar year in which the employer made the noncomparable contributions.

Recommended Steps To Manage Risks

Ongoing and continuously evolving changes in the requirements applicable to group health plans under the Code and other laws and regulations have significantly increased the likelihood that many group health plans and their processes, forms and procedures may not fully comply with applicable requirements.  This often is the case even where the plan sponsor has engaged highly respected insurers, consultants or administrators to assist with the design or administration of its programs.  In light of the potentially significant damage, excise tax and other penalty and other liability risks that violations can trigger, plan sponsors, insurers and administrators should among other things:

  • Review and update as necessary their existing plan documents and related practices for compliance with applicable federal mandates;
  • Monitor and react promptly to update plan terms and procedures as changes occur;
  • Implement and administer appropriate procedures to identify and redress compliance problems on a timely basis;
  • Review the adequacy of vendor compliance and tighten vendor agreements to strengthen the enforceability of quality expectations and to enhance the potential for recourse if these quality commitments are not met; and
  • Evaluate the advisability of securing liability insurance or other back up protection to help mitigate potential liability, investigation and/or defense costs that may arise if the need to investigate or defend a compliance challenge arises.

For Help In  Managing Your Risk

If your organization needs assistance with monitoring, assessing, managing or defending these or other health or other employee benefit, labor and employment, or compensation practices, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer or another Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney of your choice.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a nationally recognized author and speaker, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with health and other employee benefit, labor and employment laws, safety, compensation, insurance, and other laws.  She also advises and defends employers and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, employee benefit plans and others about litigation and other disputes relating to these matters, as well as charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. She has counseled and represented employers on these and other workforce matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

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©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.

One Response to COBRA, HIPAA, GINA, Mental Health Parity or Other Group Health Plan Rule Violations Trigger New Excise Tax Self-Assessment & Reporting Obligations

  1. Chandra Bose says:

    expert at very direct and precise writing. Thank you very much, you taught me something new.
    Mental Health Assessment Form

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